Art & Culture / Photography

Colour pop, hot wax and beauty standards according to Marta Zgierska

"Each work is an expression of processes taking place within me — my anxieties, doubts, memories."

Marta Zgierska is known for her emotive artwork, often dealing with the subject of trauma, liminal experiences and working with the body. Behind her work is a long performative process as well as testing and discovering new materials. “I work with my body, open myself to experience, examine my endurance. The hardness and longness of the process, which is hidden behind the final photography, is always important point in my works. The process is the point,” she tells me.

From her most recent project to her future plans, get to know the photographer below:

Let’s talk about your recent Votive Figure project. What was the inspiration behind it and how did that come about?

Votive Figure is my reflection on the pressure that the contemporary society exerts on the woman’s image, and wider my reflection on human condition in the contemporary world. For many people, the depiction of appealing, desirable body becomes the only pursuit, a way of life, a stepping stone to a life of fame and fortune.

I cover my own body in a wax shell, and this way I myself become a votive figure.  I chose wax because of its use in sacred rituals: to make figures, offered as a religious sacrifice in the intention of healing or protection. Since the Middle Ages, votive offerings have being placed at shrines and churches and they often had the form of waxen reproductions of ill body parts or organs. My artistic gesture is based on making a sacrifice of my body to the new god of our contemporary world – the Beauty.

The fragility of wax makes you think about fragility of our bodies. The question arises about importance of beauty of our bodies, which we take so big care and though which is so temporary.

Your work explores a lot of different themes and, throughout the years, it’s possible to see a drastic change of colours and materials. How do you choose the themes for your projects?

I observe the reality and feel that I have to react in some way. But also I examine myself as a neurotic person. All of my works are some kind of self-portraits, I didn’t used my body and my face by accident.

Using colors in photography always means for me more than an aesthetic choice. Colour matters: it gives many meanings, it’s a great medium in itself. Above all, my works are very calm on the surface and very pulsating below it. I can get it just by combining carefully selected aesthetics with meanings and the process that occurs during making works.

I’m developing the idea of soft and pretty aesthetic in Votive Figure, there are just pastel and light rose tones here. Used wax has a natural colour, but in some fragments there are colour traces. This colour on the wax is not decorative in itself, it is driven by the beauty products used to decorate the body, a representation of the cult of beauty. The trace of lipstick, shining through the waxen layer, marks the point of contact between the living body and the shell.

What is the process behind your work?

I have to say that the process is the basis of my artistic practice. Behind the work, which I show as photographs, is a long performative process, as well as the time of testing and discovering the selected material, which I’m working with. To get the right meanings and this what I call the truth of the message, I work with my body, open myself to experience, examine my endurance. The hardness and longness of the process, which is hidden behind the final photography, is always an important point in my works. The process is the point.

In the work “Votive Figure”, I pour dissolved, hot wax on my body. At the moment of contact with skin, wax becomes solid in a flash. I am exposed to burns, breathing difficulties or loss of eyebrows and eyelashes. But I have to be the votive figure, otherwise the whole process will not make sense.

In Afterbeauty, a work in which I also deal with the subject of the canons of beauty, I construct attractive, colourful, spatial forms from used cosmetic facial masks. I force myself to perform the ritual of placing the mask on my face and repeat the process so long until it becomes harmful to the skin. In Post, I also use my body. I cut my hand, I sew and stretch my face, I create a temporary sculpture of chairs and my body, despite the pain from a recently broken spine during the car crash.

Are there any set themes you explore? If so, which ones and why?

I focus on discovering my own experiences through art. In my works, every time I refer to my own psyche, limitations, fears, my current situation in which I try to find myself. Each work is an expression of processes taking place within me — my anxieties, doubts, memories. I do not have to be explicitly visible to have traces of my presence in my works.

I often use a contrast between visible image and invisible process and presence. In Votive Figure you can break the soft, beautiful shell, and go inside to discover the hard process and think about purpose. You can also stay at the beginning, on first, short view. It exposes ways of our today perception and receiving the message.

Any upcoming projects we should know about?

This upcoming September will be full of events. My solo exhibition at the DongGang Museum of Photography in South Korea, where I was named Artist of the Year, is on view until 29th of September. At the beginning of the month I have the opening of the exhibition “Rituals: Correlations” at the Fotoalerie Vien, where I was invited with the Afterbeauty work. Next step is a premiere of Takeover at PGS National Gallery in Sopot, Poland. I will present new body of work, which I made in the occasion of my artistic residency in Sopot. It will be a work in which I delve into the subject of Instagram, uncanny valley and female identity. The most important point in September is my first solo exhibition at the Gowen Contemporary in Geneva, the gallery that represents me.

At the same time I’m working on a completely new piece of work and I’m completing Votive Figure with new photographs.

Follow Marta on Instagram here.

29 August 2019